As a woman of German and English ancestry, I tend to sunburn very easily. It’s always been a challenge for me to reach a color resembling “tan”, usually it’s closer to “lobster”. Because of this, I am an avid sunscreen user, and re-applier, especially during the delightfully warm and sunny summer months. I have used all manner of products: creams, lotions, sprays, high SPF, low SPF, the list goes on. Some products work better than others, but as I’ve gotten older and become more concerned with how many chemicals I put in and on my body, I have tried to seek out the most natural products possible. I began to find, however, that most of these natural sunscreens were pretty darn expensive. That pink Coppertone bottle was looking increasingly enticing the more I searched through the shelves.
Since my time at the Integrative Institute for Nutrition, I have been fascinated by the healing and protective powers of food. I was curious to know if there were any foods that might, in addition to a topical sunscreen, be helpful in protecting the skin from the inside-out. After a little research, I found that real foods we eat everyday, not anything crazy from a far off land you can only buy on the black market, are also SPF superstars. These foods contained three key components: antioxidants, phytonutrients and Omega-3 fatty acids.
Here’s a list of some foods that contain these sun protectors:
Tomatoes, egg yolks, spinach and broccoli
These vitamin-packed foods also contain an antioxidant called lutein, which can act as a preventative agent against UVB-induced skin cancer. Interestingly, if these foods are overcooked, the lutein content decreases dramatically, so try to lightly steam the veggies or try them raw and perhaps poach or lightly scramble the egg rather than fry it. An herbal supplement called Milk Thistle (which is also helpful for preventing hangovers, but that’s another post…) may also help protect the skin against UV rays. Two studies at the University of Colorado Cancer Center published this month showed that the milk thistle extract, silibinin, kills skin cells mutated by UVA radiation and protects against damage by UVB radiation- thus protecting against UV-induced skin cancer and photo-aging. Milk thistle can be found in capsule form at most health food stores.
Peppers, Carrots and Squash
Orange bell peppers, carrots and butternut and acorn squash all contain the carotenoid zeaxanthin. This fancy-sounding antioxidant increases your protection from UV-radiation induced skin damage fourfold.
*Bonus combo! Lutein and zaxanthin are also important nutrients in maintaining good eye health. Studies have shown that these nutrients reduce the risk of chronic eye disease, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts. Foods that contain both of these nutrients include cooked leafy greens like kale, spinach, and collards, as well as corn and green peas. Two powerhouses for the price of one? Thanks Mother Nature 🙂
Chlorella, spirulina and fish oil
Chances are you saw the words above and thought (what language is she speaking? Greek?). I’ll give you a hint as to what nutrient they all contain: each of these sources come from the ocean. If you guessed Omega-3s, *ding ding ding*, you are correct! Unfiltered fish oil contains astraxanthin, a powerful antioxidant derived from algae and thought to be 100 times more effective than Vitamin E at sweeping out free radicals, or toxins, from the body. If you’re not a fan of fish oil, or are a vegetarian, chlorella and spirulina, both forms of algae found in your health foods supplements aisle, also contain a high level of astraxanthin. You can get Omega-3s just from eating fish, but you’ll have to eat quite a lot of it to consume the level of astraxanthin necessary for optimum protection. Experiment with these supplements to see if they’re right for you.
So be sure to pack your picnic basket full of these tasty foods, after you slather on your SPF of course, and get outside!
Resources: alignyo.com, aoa.org, coloradocancerblogs.org